Sorghum Could Be Grown for Fuel

Crop is being studied in United States and internationally as a possible biofuel source--as well as a highly easily digestible feed source.

by Dani Yokhna

Sorghum is being considered as a possible biofuel crop.

The grain was the focus of the International Workshop on Sorghum for Biofuels held recently in Houston, Texas.

The reasons sorghum is attracting greater interest as a biofuel crop in the United States and elsewhere is because it:

  • Tolerates drought
  • Grows well on marginal lands not suitable for most other crops
  • Produces high yields even after a short production cycle
    requires minimal amounts of fertilizer and irrigation

Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and around the world are studying sorghum genetics and genomics, production systems and conversion processes to optimize biofuel production.

(Read a related article: Farm Fuel)

Sorghum Good for Feed?
Certain lines or types of sorgum are also being explored as a very digestible feed.

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According to researches, the fiber in a certain type of sorgum is easier to digest than standard sorghum. This could result in higher milk production and higher beef gains.

The main reason is the lower lignans or kind of “celluar glue” that strengthens plants and makes them more rigid. It’s also know a s low-lignin sorghum.

On the fuel front, the line’s high fiber digestibility could also mean improved sorghum-to-ethanol conversion at processing plants

First Sorghum Facility
The first demonstration cellulosic ethanol facility in the United States is being developed by Verenium Corporation in Jennings, La.; The facility is set to produce 1.4-million-gallons-per-year using sorgum.

The National Sorghum Producers website offers a great primer on sorghum.

Source: Agricultural Research Service. The ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.


Sorghum could be good biofuel source according to ARS and other researchers

Where is Sorghum Grown?
According the U.S. EPA and researchers at Purdue University the states that grow the most grain sorghum in the United States are: Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri

It’s used mainly as feed for livestock in the United States, but is also used in food products, as well as industrial products like  wallboard and biodegradable packaging materials.

At this time, as much as 12% of U.S. sorghum production goes toward ethanol and related products.

Researchers suggest that increased demand for renewable fuel sources will mean increased demand for sorghum-related products (or co-products) like sorghum-DDG (dry distillers grain).

Source: Environmental Protection Agency and Purdue Research Foundation

Photo courtesy USDA

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